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Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Note: I've made the assumption that Gimli at least understands Sindarin. After all, his father had dealings with Thranduil. Also, I cannot take credit for the idea behind Sam's outburst mid-chapter. The idea came from the fanfic The River by Indigo Bunting. I highly recommend giving it a read!
It was not only Gandalf whom Gimli mourned. He'd held out hope to the very last moment, but after Moria he could no longer deny Balin's demise. His kin. In his younger days, he'd sat up with them nursing an ale late into the night while they'd regaled him with the legends of Khazad-Dűm, and of their desire to restore it to the glory days of the dwarves, or of their adventures with a certain hobbit. It had long been their dream, and now they lay dead. Now Gimli had proof undeniable that all those who had set out to reclaim Moria were lost. The book of Marzarbul would be an extra weight in his pack and burden on his heart until he could bring it to his father. How glad he had been of the wizard's stubborn choosing of the path under the mountains, and now the mines had claimed him, too. It was unfathomable.
He should have returned his axe to its place on his belt, but instead he leaned against it, gripping the axe head tightly. The bite of the metal into his gloves felt calming. Later, he would remember to clean off the orc blood, but for the moment he paid it no mind. These were grievous losses, each too near to the other to bear. His very knees trembled with the weight of all that had passed. Aye, Moria had been grander than even his youthful visions, but he wished now it had been sealed up long ago, never to be looked on again. He bowed his head. Had anyone been paying attention, they might have noticed the tears wetting his beard, but he did not feel ashamed.
A little clatter ahead of him jerked him from his reverie, and his eyes flashed to a spot several paces ahead. Even as he comprehended the black arrow, more began to fly. Before he could react, the elf called out a warning, but the Ranger and Frodo were already too far away for any of the Company to come swiftly to aid them.
Arrows continued to fly all around, one bounced harmlessly off his mail coat as Gimli, also, took shelter, propelling the still paralyzed Sam in front of him. Beside him, Boromir's oath was unintelligible as he pulled the younger hobbits behind the ruin of an ancient wall.
"Aragorn and Frodo are cut off!" the man reported. It was sheer luck shelter had been so near, slowed as they were by grief and weariness. The ruin of a guardhouse, perhaps.
"Can you see who is shooting at us?" This came from Merry, who had snapped out of his stupor of grief and drawn his sword, Gimli noted with approval.
Boromir shook his head, and Gimli muttered. "I suppose we'll have to ask the elf."
"Our friends are safe for now," came the reply, its usual merriment tempered a bit, "but our enemy is concealed in the trees. Their numbers are small, maybe five archers. Even to my eyes, the area appears to be the roots of the mountain, but there must have been some window out of Moria, or at least a shelter for them to lie in wait."
"They were biding their time, waiting until we had tasted freedom." Gimli said bitterly.
"Likely a last guard, to prevent any of us from escaping should all other means fail, and in our grief, we have made their job all too easy," Boromir spat.
"Aye," Legolas replied. "They guard the road, but they cannot reach us, save by arrows…at least for now."
"They've stopped shooting," Sam observed quietly.
Gimli's eyes turned back to the elf, whose jaw was set with a grim knowledge, and perhaps a hint of resignation.
"Their targets have disappeared. We are concealed behind this ruin, and I saw Aragorn push Frodo forward and out of their line of sight—there" he pointed to the left and across the wide courtyard. The dwarf could see Aragorn couched low, and Frodo beneath him.
"They are waiting for our next move, conserving their arrows," Legolas continued softly, "and I suspect they'll be willing to wait until night if necessary, when they can come out in greater numbers."
"Could Frodo and Strider continue against the mountain wall until they are out of reach?"
Merry asked a valid question.
Legolas tilted his head in consideration and gazed across the expanse, seeking the road's direction. Finally, he shook his head. "That rock face ends almost as soon as the road narrows. There would be no more shelter until the road curved again. The distance to us would be safer."
"But Mr. Legolas!" Sam sounded both panicked and indignant. He seemed to have rallied a bit. "That may be a short dash for Mr. Strider, but it's twice as far for Mr. Frodo! Hobbits can be speedy, I'll grant you, but it will take him much longer to get to safety." The other hobbits nodded in solidarity.
"Peace, Sam. Aragorn will not leave Frodo to fend for himself." Boromir eyed Legolas' bow.
Guessing his thoughts, Legolas spoke. "Neither will I. I shall distract them—and with some luck, perhaps it will be their numbers that are reduced, not our own." He paused as if listening to something, and the dwarf was a little surprised to see a smirk cross his lips. No doubt the Ranger was forming a plan. He'd never admit to envying an elf, but such sensitive hearing would be helpful from time to time.
Gimli eyed Legolas' quiver with a feeling of unease. Even he would not deny the elf was talented with his bow, but a bow was useless without arrows, and the three knocking around in the near-empty quiver would not be enough to subdue the five above.
They all fell silent, waiting in jittery anticipation of what would happen. Aragorn was counting, Gimli suspected.
"NĘL*!" cracked harshly across the courtyard to them, and Legolas stepped swiftly out to the side of the wall and aimed his bow up and to the right, staying parallel to the wall. He had nocked and loosed a second arrow before anything else had moved. Gimli could hear the orcs chattering excitedly at the elf's appearance and pressed his lips together to suppress his alarm. The stupid elf was making himself a target. There was no denying the orcs found him to be a far worthier prize than a man and a hobbit.
As so often happens in battle or skirmish, time seemed to slow. Aragorn sprang forward, the Ringbearer a blur of green and rusty brown under one arm. Legolas nocked his final arrow and shot, while at the same time the man dove between him around the stony wall, almost tossing Frodo in front of him. Had the situation been less dire, he might have come less close to outright throwing Master Baggins. Before the hobbit had fully reached the ground and before Gimli even had time to cry out a proper warning, a black blur-barely discernable to his mortal eyes-propelled the elf backward several steps, but he remained upright and staggered at last behind the safety of the wall.
Aragorn turned at Gimli's abbreviated cry and stared. Slowly, as if he wasn't yet certain what had happened, the elf looked down at the damage. The man sprang to the elf's side as the fire of battle ebbed, and Legolas slid downward. He only just managed to slow his friend's descent and ease him to the ground where he could lean again the wall.
Around him, Gimli could hear surprise and dismay as each of the Company became aware of what had transpired. Aragorn was heedless of them, his focus solely on the elf in front of him. He knelt close to Legolas, firing off something in rapid Sindarin and pressing his fingers around the wound. Gimli thought it strange that any man's default language when upset would be the Grey Tongue. Perhaps the man and the elf were even closer than he had previously thought, or maybe he was just trying to keep the elf calm. Gimli shook his head. He might as well speak in Weston, for his words were secret only to the hobbits and Boromir, thought he suspected Frodo understood more than he let on.
"Estel-we must go. We cannot tarry here." The elf's voice was rough with pain.
"You cannot afford to bleed to death, gwador nîn*," Aragorn retorted, "We have time enough, and your adar* would have my head, heir of Elendil or not."
Gimli raised an eyebrow at this. He had thought when the Company set out, that the man and the elf had perhaps been previously acquainted, but here was proof of a deeper bond. He wondered why the Ranger had hidden it from them.
Boromir had joined Aragorn at the elf's side, or maybe he had been there for some time and it had escaped Gimli's notice. He hovered over the elf and the man, speaking softly, and then he folded his stout frame into a crouch. "Surely you don't mean to remove it?!"
"Of course not!" came the somewhat indignant reply. But Gimli heard fear there, too.
"Why doesn't he hurry and pull it out?" Pippin exclaimed in soft surprise beside him. Gimli wrenched his gaze from the elf to look at the young hobbit, whose eyes were wide and horrified. His kin were all gathered around him. Merry had a comforting hand on his cousin's shoulder. Gimli's eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he noticed Frodo's stiff and shallow breathing and Sam's pale face. Clearly, neither felt well, but each was distracted from his own hurts. He'd need to keep an eye out, but as they were on their feet now, the elf was the priority.
"Learn this lesson and learn it well, my lad, for we may have need of it where we're going—Mahal bless we won't," Gimli answered gently, "To pull an arrow out is like enough as to bleed to death. If you're ever in that situation, you're to leave it alone. Now, Aragorn here might choose to remove it, but I expect he knows a thing or two more about it."
"Indeed, he does." Came the wry reply from the man, who was looking pointedly at Boromir.
Nothing else was said by the hobbits as Aragorn held pressure against the wound, and none too gently. His actions were methodical and decisive. Keeping his hand firmly pressed on the wound, he rummaged through his pouch with the other, retrieving bandages and a small, corked vial. Gimli squinted a bit, for they were all in close enough quarters that he could almost make out elvish script on the label. Passing it to Boromir to uncork, Aragorn turned back to the already protesting elf.
"I need to be clear-minded," he was saying.
"You need to be able to move."
Boromir passed the bottle to the elf. It seemed he and Aragorn had reached an agreement about one thing, at least.
"We're in short supply, but it was Elladan who you can thank for insisting I take what supplies they had that I could carry. This will dull your pain."
"I'll be insensate!" Legolas clearly recognized the concoction. Gimli marveled that the elf still managed to be argumentative under such circumstances.
"Just half, then," Aragorn cajoled, a notes of both exasperation and desperation in his voice.
The elf nodded finally and threw back half the contents with a grimace before thrusting it back at Boromir and wiping a shaky arm across his mouth.
Satisfied, the man drew a dagger from his belt. It was clean—untouched by their skirmishes in the mines. Aragorn's hands were practiced as he cut away the blood-soaked suede jerkin and blue shirt underneath it to expose the wound. Gimli's stomach roiled at the sight of the orc arrow in the flesh of a companion. Even an elf. It never became easier. He spared a sideways glance at the hobbits and noted with some surprise that, though their faces were pale, a fiery anger shone in their eyes. That was unexpected—anger over horror or revulsion.
"Goheno nîn, mellon nîn.* The draught will take the edge off soon, but you know we cannot wait." the man paused and gripped the elf's shoulder. He stabilized the arrow with bandages, then began whetting the dagger against a stone. The dwarf watched as deft hands, still grimy from battle, scored the outside of the shaft round and round with the sharp blade. Even the slightest jostling of the arrow had to pain the elf, whose jaw was clenched tightly. He continued to tense against the pain, but no sound escaped. The shaft at last broke away, falling with a clatter to the ground amidst the eerie silence.
Boromir cast it away with the toe of his boot in disgust, but the dark look he shared with Aragorn did not go unnoticed. Gimli's heart sank. The elf had paled dramatically, and Aragorn was now whispering in hushed Sindarin, "Breathe, mellon nîn. The pain will pass." To Gimli's amazement, after several frantic, gulping breaths, his color returned and he calmed a bit. A man or dwarf would not have recovered so quickly.
"I fear blood loss will weaken you in a way that pain will not, at least for now. Can you stand?"
Gimli thought with some dismay how much walking would pain the elf, if even the care Aragorn took was excruciating. He hoped somewhat ruefully that the elvish medicine would work just as pretentiously as it seemed every other elvish creation did.
The answering chuckle was unexpected, and somewhere between a grin and a gasp. "Peace! I've had worse than this, and your brother's draught is taking hold." And apparently it was, for the elf finally had the presence of mind to speak in Westron, so all could understand. A calculated move, maybe, but the entire Company cheered a bit and seemed to take a collective sigh of relief. The elf's tone was light enough, but his voice was strained, and Gimli could not dismiss the worry in Aragorn's eyes.
"Good. We'll be safer the more distance we can put between us and this accursed place," Boromir cut in tersely. "What is our direction?"
At last they began to assess their location. Gimli looked northward and could see that there the dale ran up into a glen of shadows between two great arms of the mountains, above which three white peaks were shining: Celebdil, Fanuidhol, Caradhras, the Mountains of Moria. At the head of the glen a torrent flowed like a white lace over an endless ladder of short falls, and a mist of foam hung in the air about the mountains' feet.
Aragorn followed his gaze. "Yonder is the Dimrill Stair," he said, pointing to the falls. "Down the deep-cloven way that climbs beside the torrent we should have come, if fortune had been kinder."
"Or Caradhras less cruel," said Gimli. "There he stands smiling in the sun!" He shook his fist at the furthest of the snow-capped peaks and turned away. How they had paid for his cruelty.
"The road lies below us. If we are to avoid further encounters with unfriendly arrows, we must pick our way down the mountainside to the place the road curves back east." He pointed to the rocky terrain that descended below them.
"Easy does it," he cautioned, as he and Boromir helped Legolas to his feet. The elf groaned at the movement and braced himself against the wall for a few moments to grow used to being on his feet. Gimli blinked in surprised when, after a few breaths, he looked up and proclaimed, "I am ready."
Indeed, if not for the disfigured and stained jerkin and shirt, one would hardly realize the elf was injured. Even the steward's son seemed taken aback, and the hobbits were similarly in awe, but Aragorn merely gave a sad smile and squeezed the elf's shoulder before turning and leading them all in their chosen direction.
The mountainside was steep and stony, and, though picking their way down it proved slow and precarious at times, the way was not overly difficult. Young birches grew sparsely and Legolas used them like great walking staffs, letting them brace him as he made his way down.
At last, they came to an ancient stone ledge, and in it Gimli recognized the craftsmanship of his kin. Below it, the road curved to meet them. It was rough and broken, now fading to a winding track between heather and whin that thrust amid the cracking stones. But still it could be seen that once long ago a great paved way had wound upwards from the lowlands of the Dwarf-kingdom. In places there were ruined works of stone beside the path not unlike the wall that had sheltered them from the orcs above, and mounds of green topped with slender birches, or fir-trees sighing in the wind.
How ironic that this time, it was the elf that needed to catch his breath. Gimli's heart twinged. How angry he had been at the elf's merriment on Caradharas as he dashed along the snow. He should have already danced his merry way halfway down the road and back to report on his findings. They paused here and looked about them. To the east the outflung arm of the mountains marched to a sudden end, and far lands could be descried beyond them, wide and vague. To the south the Misty Mountains receded endlessly as far as sight could reach. Less than a mile away, and a little below them, for they still stood high up on the west side of the dale, there lay a mere. It was long and oval, shaped like a great spear-head thrust deep into the northern glen; but its southern end was beyond the shadows under the sunlit sky. Yet its waters were dark: a deep blue like clear evening sky seen from a lamp-lit room. Its face was still and unruffled. About it lay a smooth sward, shelving down on all sides to its bare unbroken rim.
Grief rose up again. There Balin had been slain.
"There lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-zaram!" said Gimli sadly. "I remember that he said: 'May you have joy of the sight! But we cannot linger there.' Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again. It is I that must hasten away, and he that must remain." The sight would have been the joy of his life, but he'd now ever associate its beauty with loss-loss of his kin and loss of Gandalf.
The Company moved on for a while. Eventually, an eastward bend led them hard by the sward of Mirrormere, and there not far from the roadside stood a single column broken at the top.
"That is Durin's Stone!" cried Gimli, before he could stop himself. He dared not turn aside for a moment to look at the wonder of the dale, but the ancient places of his kin stirred something in him that was impossible to ignore.
"Be swift!" said Aragorn, giving him a nod of encouragement and looking back toward the Gates. "I would have not have us hurry by when this is as convenient a place to pause as any to make sure the bandages are holding, but we must not stay here long. The Sun sinks early. The Orcs will not, maybe, come out till after dusk, but we must be far away before nightfall. The Moon is almost spent, and it will be dark tonight. Be quick."
Gimli looked darkly at the elf. He looked a bit more tired than before, his bandages already soaked from the jostling climb down. It felt a betrayal to turn aside now, yet something in the elf's eyes spoke of understanding. In that moment, Gimli felt such a kinship with the elf that it shook him to his very boots. The elves understood and honored history and heritage in a way similar to his own people.
Gimli bowed his head in thanks.
"Come with me, Frodo!" he decided suddenly, turning to the Ringbearer and beckoning him from the road. "I would not have you go without seeing Kheled-zaram." He ran down the long green slope and could hear Frodo following slowly behind, and also another. A quick glance confirmed it was Sam.
Behind the standing stone Gimli halted and looked up. It was cracked and weather-worn, and the faint runes upon its side could not be read. "This pillar marks the spot where Durin first looked in the Mirrormere," said the dwarf, feeling no little amount of awe and reverence. "Let us look ourselves once, ere we go!"
They stooped over the dark water. At first they could see nothing. Then slowly they saw the forms of the encircling mountains mirrored in a profound blue, and the peaks were like plumes of white flame above them; beyond there was a space of sky. There like jewels sunk in shone glinting stars, though sunlight was in the sky above. Of their own stooping forms no shadow could be seen.
"O Kheled-zaram fair and wonderful!" said Gimli, sadly and wistfully. "There lies the Crown of Durin till he wakes. Farewell!" He bowed, and turned away, and hastened back up the green-sward to the road again.
When they returned from the mere, the elf was leaning against a tree, apparently preferring its support to the men hovering beside him. He was far too pale. Even his lips were bloodless, but he was still upright. The elf grunted as the new bandages were tied even more tightly.
"Would that we could be still," the man was saying, "I fear the terrain has done you no favors, mellon nîn, but I will do what I can for you, and the road is easier for a while."
The elf batted his hands away. "I will be fine." The look on his face spoke of wounded pride.
Aragorn looked doubtful, if bit annoyed. Gimli allowed himself to relax ever so slightly. Perhaps the wound had not been so dire as it had first feared.
"I tell no lie. We will press on as long as I can, and we have your brothers' foresight to thank for it. We cannot stop here at any rate—and if things should suddenly go ill, better that we are nearer to Lothlórien."
gwador nîn=my (sworn) brother
Goheno nîn, mellon nîn=I'm sorry, my friend.
As always, any feedback is welcome and appreciated.
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